Wang-1 PLIR3310 Critical Review Paper – Movies About Rwanda

PLIR3310 Critical Review Paper – Movies About Rwanda Genocide
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire (2005)
Yule Wang
Class of 2017
yw2a[email protected]
Instructed by
Professor Michael Joseph Smith,
Theophilus Yakah, Section: 1 p.m. Friday
"On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment."
Hotel Rwanda
– A story of a Hutu man, but a Projection of What the UN Could Have Done
Paul Rusesabagina was not only a smart hotel manager who knew how to use bribery
and flattery to effectively run his businesses, but also a “fortunate” Hutu man, who was able
to protect his Tutsi wife and family during the genocide by his skills and most importantly,
his Hutu identity. When Tatiana, his wife, asked him to help their Tutsi neighbor who was
harassed before the genocide officially happened, although concerned, Paul responded,
“there’s nothing we can do…He is not family. Family is all that matter.” However, after Paul
had no choice but to protect hundreds of evacuees and refugees sent to his hotel by the UN
peacekeeping force and the Red Cross, he found himself more and more obligated to protect
them who were neither his family nor his friends. Later, when his family was granted to
evacuate from the country, Paul chose to stay with all the Tutsi people who could not leave,
“I am not leaving. You hold Tatiana. Take care of my family. I cannot leave these people to
die. I cannot leave these people.”
It is morally reasonable for a man to care about his family if it is his only interest. Yet
Paul’s decision to protect the people without the ethnic boundary delineated in the film
“Hotel Rwanda” seems to me actually an opposite reflection of the United Nations Security
Council, but far more honorable.
The film has accurately portrayed Hutu’s slaughter of Tutsi placing no distinction
towards children or women, and even measuring lives by francs. Their target was to wipe out
the next generation of Tutsi, as overtly expressed by the Hutu General in the film, “You do
not believe you can kill them all? Why not? We are halfway there already.” However, the
western indifference to Hutu’s brutality was even more horrifying. “If people see this footage,
they’ll say ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrible’, and they’ll go on eating their dinners.” This line
of a foreign reporter in the film had sharply captured the UN’s indifference and its inaction in
When told not to intervene the slaughter and to evacuate from Rwanda, Colonel Oliver
of the UN desperately said to Paul, “They think you’re dirt…You’re worthless…You’re
black. You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.” The Western superpowers had no
interest in Rwanda, as the same as Paul had no interest in the unprotected Tutsi people who
stayed at the hotel, but the two actors’ decisions were morally apart.
The film has sufficiently reflected a theme of realists’ arguments in both the definition
of politics as power, and the ethical justifications regarding state actions. It has also projected
what UN could have done to rescue the non-combatants in Rwanda by presenting what Paul
has done to save his family and protect those innocent civilians who were held up at the
When the imperative came, Paul successfully blackmailed the Hutu general by claiming
that he would be eventually indicted as a war criminal in the world if without Paul’s
testimony. This eventual means seemed to me not only a person’s last self-help but also one
of the most probable approaches that the UN could have effectively intervened in the
genocide. Intervention on the international stage represents a spectrum of discrete acts, which
try to affect the domestic affairs of another state (Smith, 1989). As Paul had established the
relationship with people who were hiding at his hotel by choosing to tell lies for them, the
United Nations had also been obligated to protect at the moment when it sent troops into
While the means of which the termination of genocide was done by the Tutsi rebel
force, which seemed to be an ideal and sounding approach to a state’s self-determination in
the liberal reasoning of Western world, it did not mean it was necessary for Rwanda to
sacrifice hundreds of thousand non-combatants to work out its own governance. The
slaughter was evitable if the United Nations had acted upon its presence. There was room that
allowed outside interveners to bypass the subject state’s military operation in its civil war and
carry out its responsibility to protect. In addition to United Nations’ dispatch of troops having
zero effect on restraining human cruelty in Rwanda and the attempt to justify its inaction by
its name of “peacekeeping” but not “peacemaking,” the United Nations could have adopted
sanction or a mere public statement to limit Hutu army’s inhuman activities. As in real world,
the Western world led by the United States had successfully utilized the disinvestment
campaign to impose economic and other sanctions on South Africa, in order to dismantle its
apartheid system.
Shake Hands with the Devil: the Journey of Roméo Dallaire
– “A Failure of Humanity that Could Easily Happen Again”
If “Hotel Rwanda” has told a story about how civilians tried to save themselves when
confronting the absence of outside intervention, then the documentary film “Shake Hands
with the Devil: the Journey of Romeo Dallaire” has told a story about how a desperate
general had borne all the responsibilities and struggled to overcome the remorse of his failure
in making the United Nations act towards the tragedies in Rwanda. This film’s merciless
disclosure of the facts – the French government’s involvement in the genocide planning, the
Catholic church’s disregard of the deteriorated conflicts years before the genocide, and the
Belgian Senator’s 10-year persistence in his unfair accusation towards General Dallaire –
reminds us the other important fact that, this was a man-made disaster, and it could easily
happen again if we do not face up to our indifference towards the human hatred and
“The world is ruled by a belief that will permit other genocides. The superpower had no
interest in you…the guiding principle was that in Rwanda it’s tribalism; it’s history repeating
itself…Rwanda is black. It’s in the middle of Africa. It has no strategic value. And all that’s
there, they told me, are people, and there are too many people anyway. Standing here, I say to
you that Romeo Dallaire, as Force Commander, failed the Rwanda people since January
This speech given at the National University of Rwanda 10 years after the genocide by
General Romeo Dallaire, seems to me both a sincere catharsis of a suffered soldier and a
confession made on behalf of the United Nations that all other Western superpowers would
never admit. It was not only their inaction that manifested their realists’ traditional hostility
towards any intervention that is not subject to their national interests, but also their every
action of only saving their own expatriates as well as offering no help when saw Rwandan
civilians being slaughtered – they did not care what was happening to Africans at all.
When the United Nations refused to take Dallaire’s emergent reports seriously, the
whole mission of peacekeeping became a bluff. General Dallaire had done all he could to
keep the mission operating, but when questioned by the Rwanda President Paul Kagame, of
what he, as a general of the UN forces could do to stop the genocide, he had no answer other
than that he did not have the mandate to use the arms or forces. Even ten years later, people
were still suspicious of his failure, “why didn’t he quit?” The Belgian Senator, who had been
attacking Dallaire for years, also seized the opportunity at the Conference to accuse Dallaire
of his critical judgment errors to obey the order, which led to the deaths of ten Belgian
This moral dilemma had kept haunting him since the moment when he received the
order from the UN of not doing anything about the genocide. As a soldier who follows the
deontological ethics, he perceived disobeying the order as totally irresponsible, but this moral
decision thereby became the nightmare that forced him to pursue the suicidal conducts. Yet,
these attacks again ignored the historical facts of how the past Western colonial power had
contributed to the long ethnic conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi: it was the Belgian colonists
created the distinct division; and Belgian forces were the first to leave the peacekeeping
mission behind. They deliberately attributed all the responsibility to a single man to avoid the
discussion of the 800,000 Africans who had died because of their past acts, just as Dallaire
has said in the movie, “It’s the proportionality of all act.”
“If you are so irresolute, maybe [the genocide] could happen again.” Stephen Lewis
made this last commentary in the documentary. He addressed to President Clinton’s insincere
excuse that all kinds of willful claim of “if only I had known” by the Western superpowers
demonstrate their lasting unwillingness to acknowledge their significant moral default, and it
was completely true that the whole genocide could have been prevented or at least stopped
for so many “what-ifs”. Still, there is no political will to act, and considerable energy was
spent in rationalizing the inaction. If the introspection of past behaviors was not sufficiently
examined by those who committed the fault, then the norm of taking future responsibility to
protect cannot be established either, and the atrocity could easily happen again.
Responsibility to Protect – To Prevent More Failure in Humanity
As Dallaire has said: “While most nations agree that something should be done, they all
have an excuse why they should not be the ones to do it.” The western world seemed to have
every reason not to intervene in the African businesses. Whereas realists can base their
justification of non-intervention on the overt calculation of national interests and their
unwillingness to fall into the trap of self-delusion and hypocrisy, liberals love to adopt their
seemingly more sacred argumentations on their value of self-determination or the doomed
struggle of self-help (Smith, 2009). Furthermore, the multi-lateral structure of approval in the
United Nations usually prolongs the decision-making process and largely contributes to the
action of shirking initiatives to each other when facing the judgment and decision to act upon
the violation of human rights.
Although African countries or any other countries in the third world having conflicts,
often feel suspicious about the intention behind the Western power’s unilateral intervention
due to their colony history, the unilateral approach should not be totally ruled out when the
humanitarian emergency arrives (Smith, 2009). Indeed, it is hard to justify whether
self-interest plays a role in the unilateral approach of intervention, which is always accused of
violating the autonomy of the other state; but the requirement for multi-lateral participation is
much tougher and time-consuming, and thereby easily leads to the ineffective spiral of
“nothing gets done”. Therefore, as Professor Smith has put forward (2009), collectively
approved unilateral action could be a better alternative to engaging in intervention that can
not only correct the potential to self-interest but also encourage a strong state to take the lead.
On the other hand, when in the cases of radical emergency that non-combatants are
threatened by massacre, enslavement, or large-scale expulsion, the prima facie premise of
state sovereignty becomes no longer necessary to the discussion of domestic
self-determination. The government itself, like the Hutu armies in Rwanda, loses the
legitimacy and becomes criminal when its action violates the basic humanitarian
consideration, and more specifically, the jus in bello of the Just War Tradition. As Michael
Walzer has discussed in “The Politics of Rescue” (1995), he revised the absolute rule of
non-intervention to override the presumption against deploying armies in the other state when
there are the acts and occasions of massacre, rape, ethnic cleansing, or state terrorism. The
international humanitarian intervention should be adopted as a rescue operation in which “the
intervener goes in and then comes out,” and collective consensus and actions are preferred to
balance out the self-interest (Smith, 2009).
In my view, even when encountering an obvious collapse of a state’s legitimacy and
violation of humanity, the prudent and constant examination of how to sufficiently justify
humanitarian intervention should still be borne in mind: Who gets to decide when to
intervene? Who could intervene? And how could intervening states check and balance of
each other’s actions within the subject state?
Most importantly, the failure of humanity should not be allowed to happen again. The
United Nations Security Council should learn from the tragedy of Rwanda and fulfill its
responsibility to protect – not merely a quasi-cosmopolitan norm of protection, but an
established clarification of what we can and should do in the contemporary world, to at least
help and rescue the non-combatants in the conflicts of Syria, Libya, South Sudan, and Central
African Republic.
George, T. (Director). (2005). Hotel Rwanda [DVD]. United States: MGM/United Artists.
Raymont, P. (2005). Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire [DVD].
Canada: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Smith, M. J. (1989). Ethics and Intervention. Ethics & International Affairs, 3, 1–26.
doi: 10.1111/j.1747-7093.1989.tb00209.x
Smith, M. J. (2009). Humanitarian Intervention. An Overview of the Ethical Issues. In J.
Rosenthal, & C. Barry (Eds.), Ethics and International Affairs: A Reader (3rd ed.).
Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
Walzer, M. (1995). The Politics of Rescue. In A. Mack (Ed.), Social Research: An
International Quarterly Rescue: The Paradoxes of Virtue, 6 (1), 53-66.
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